The full Florida House is set to vote on a bill that would give private-school, virtual-school and charter-school students more access to extra-curricular activities at nearby public schools.
The bipartisan legislation has passed unanimously through three committees, and it seemed to be cruising toward a final vote without controversy. That changed on Wednesday, as the bill’s supporters faced a series of tough questions from Democrats when it was introduced on the House floor.
HB 533 would broaden Florida’s so-called “Tebow Law” that allows students in home education and other choice programs to compete on sports teams at nearby public schools. It would clarify that the rule also applies to other extracurricular activities, like drama or debate clubs.
It would also allow students – including those who attend traditional public schools – to participate in those activities at other schools in their district if their zoned school does not offer them.
Bill sponsor Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said the bill would ensure students have access to extracurricular activities as growing numbers of them choose options beyond their zoned schools.
“Students and parents have a lot of choices to make, and those schools are not bound by attendance zones, so why are we being hypocritical, and trying to keep these students out, from participating in athletics and activities?” he asked his colleagues, responding to a litany of questions from Democrats on the House floor.
“This concept bothers me a great deal,” said Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood. Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, asked if the bill would allow schools to “quote-unquote recruit” students to build powerhouse programs in sports or other competitions.
Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, warned about a potential “chaos factor.”